The family of a talented Oxford student who died of an overdose has urged the university to change its drugs policy.
Daniel Mervis, 23, a former JFS pupil and world record powerlifter, developed an addiction while a student at St John’s College.
The gifted Physics student began his studies in October 2014 after achieving an entrance score which placed him in the top five percent of students admitted.
He took a break from his studies in his first year to seek treatment, before eventually joining University College London in 2019 having been drug-free for eight months.
The passionate vegan, who family members remember as “an advocate for a world of compassion”, died of an overdose on October 25, 2019.
Now a coroner has criticised the Oxford college’s drugs policy, saying it could discourage students with addictions to seek the support they need.
“It was clear that Daniel was using drugs whilst at St John’s College,” said Professor Fiona Wilcox, the coroner for Inner West London in a report published earlier this month.
The coroner added that the college’s drug policy, which pledges sanctions against drug use, “may discourage such students to seek help for their addiction out of fear of the consequences, either legal or disciplinary.
“A policy of the College which is well publicised and stresses the confidential nature of support offered may mitigate this risk.”
Daniel’s father, Hilton Mervis, told Jewish News: “Daniel cared for every sentient being. He would have wanted any lessons that could be learned to help others from addiction.
“Students should know they can go to someone associated with the college and get help and time-out for treatment, without being subject to automatic disciplinary action or fear of prosecution,” he said.
“Daniel didn’t initially admit to taking drugs, so we never knew the problem. On the one hand they say we do help you, but it all boils down to one paragraph in the student handbook.”
He added: “The main thing is to try and give help for others so that it does not happen again.”
In a statement, St John’s said it was “greatly shocked and saddened” by Daniel’s death.
It said: “Comprehensive support provisions are available to all students who may benefit from help with drugs or other medical and welfare problems, and as part of the student induction procedure the Senior Dean and Welfare Dean see all new undergraduates in Freshers’ week and specifically refer them to the support provisions available.”
But Mr Mervis said: “I’m a bit surprised given these ‘comprehensive support provisions’, to which Oxford refers is the same policy the coroner has found inadequate.
“I’m concerned that they are spending money donated by their alumni on legal fees to argue about their drugs policy rather than using it to take professional advice from a drug charity to optimise that policy.
“I would hope that St John’s would want to have a world-leading drugs policy given it impacts the lives of their most precious commodity – the student.”
St John’s must now give a response to the coroner about the action they are taking to prevent future deaths within 54 days of the report.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.